One of the mechanisms we employ in our Enneagram strategy is called polarization. When we polarize, we keep all of something out of our life. (Technically, this is called dissociation). Then when any of that something comes into our life, we see it as total. Or we see it as alien, "not the real me." For example: I am not angry, I tell myself. But if something gets through to me and I feel some anger, I fly into a rage. I either have no anger or total rage. I have trouble with "some" anger. For anger, substitute eating. (Bulimia) Or sex. Or money. Or energy. Or happiness. (I'm either overjoyed or depressed, as are manic-depressives).

After excluding something from our lives, we blame somebody or something else for its absence. (A marvelous spiritual practice. Think of something you don't have much of, or none of in your life and then see if you can figure out how you keep it out.) So, if you're short of admiration, money, energy, sex, education - the list is as long as your time, ask yourself (and if you're really gutsy, ask someone who loves you) how you manage that. Brace yourself.

One usual way of keeping all of something out of our life is to move that energy into an image and then relate to the image. For example, I know a really stingy person who talks about how much he would give away if he won the lottery. And while he is imagining this, he gave me a birthday present that cost 79 cents. Two years in a row.

Another way this works is by all or nothing thinking. If you ask to borrow ten dollars from someone and they give you a lecture on economy and then ask "What do you think I am, a bank? Do you think I have nothing to do with my money except give it to you?" Or if you are ten minutes late once and they say, "You are never on time, do you think I should have to wait all day for you just because..."

You can tell from the over-reactions that they are actually reacting to something other than what you did. You triggered an earlier experience that felt total at that time, and they're reacting to that experience. A good question to ask of yourself and people who act like this is: "How old is that Enneagram strategy?" Are they acting like a ten year old, a four year old, or what?

Over-reactions are a Clue

These over-reactions are a clue to what strategy of polarization they are using. For example, in strategy Two, they are usually polarized against a glorified self-image. They see themselves as needing nothing, as being self-sufficient full people who give and give and give. In reality, they are perceived by others as needy, clinging and sticky, especially if their style is very young.

Entranced Twos can take all criticisms personally and are deeply hurt by the slightest criticism. A request for information is heard as a criticism that they aren't doing their job well. Why? Because they see themselves as meeting everyone's needs and knowing just what others need. If you have to ask, that attacks their self-image is anticipating and meeting all needs. The more polarized they are, the more they see themselves as grandiose, the more others see them as needy. The brighter the image, the darker the reality. That's what the sin of pride looks like - self-inflation. The more arrogant someone appears, the more insecure they are.

Threes polarize like this: they have a little, helpless self image inside that drives them to succeed to compensate. The more successful their outward performance is, the more they are aware of how unreal this success feels inside. Think of the rich man who can't forget his poverty-stricken childhood. Culturally in America, we have a Threeish culture and we love "Rags to Riches," stories because the riches are supposed to make up for the early rags. But they don't. In fact, the riches seem phony and Americans love to say "I knew you when," because it unmasks the dynamism of the person fleeing his own self-image of poverty. But hard work to earn riches just enlarges the distance between what he has and how he feels. On a videocassette, Tom Condon works with a highly successful Type Three who had a bad self-esteem because of early abuse. He does an NLP technique that is dramatic and illustrates this clearly.

In the case of strategy Four, the polarization takes place around the issue of acceptance/rejection. The Four feels defective, unlovable and abandoned. (Hence the lamentation style of speech). What is hidden from the Four and clear to their friends is that they exercise a pre-emptive strike and reject people before they can reject them. They hit you back first! Then any retaliation you do in response to this rejection simply confirms what they knew all along - nobody loves them. And if you do accept an entranced Four, it's because you are phony. Only they are authentic. If you were authentic, and acted out your real feelings, you'd reject them. Of course, then any criticism of them is total (because they are polarized) and they are justified in attacking you quite vigorously. Then, of course, you reject them and they are confirmed.

Fours are no different than anyone else, of course. Our polarizations are all self-confirming because they are done within the Enneagram trance that only lets the information in that supports our worldview and our self-image that fits that worldview. The Enneagram is a fine map of our inner geography, including the polar regions!


Tom Condon's The Enneagram Movie and Video Guide is a superb guide for reading Enneagram styles in movies. I trust it implicitly, I've yet to find a mistype. I have done graduate work in film studies and he really knows his stuff. Margaret Keys, in her book Emotions and the Enneagram, does a good job of articulating this at great length. She's a Jungian therapist and Jungians love to talk about the "shadow." Our shadow is what we are polarized against.

If you want real depth, Condon's three videos in which he works with types Two, Three and Four --one on each video-- (The Dynamic Enneagram)

    Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you do that doesn't work any more? (This is pretty touchy. If you aren't good friends, don't do this one. Just go home and think about it!)
  2. When you do your Enneagram strategy, about how old is it?
  3. What is missing from your life? And more importantly, how do you manage to keep it out?
  4. Can you figure out how you are polarized?

Hint: Mentally, (or verbally, if it is safe), consider one public figure that really irritates and annoys you. What does he do that you would never do? Now you're getting close to that part of you that you have split off from. (I never knew why Nixon repulsed me until I did this exercise. It's an awful one!)

The 1996 conventions were a study in polarization. Clinton is a Nine, Hilary is a One. Dole is an Eight, Elizabeth is a Three (she worked the crowd like Oprah, who is also a Three). In the background are Gore (Five) and Kemp (Seven). And Newt is a Seven with a strong Eight wing.